The Quest Story and Why It’s Important

Mossy River

Every story is a Quest Story, regardless of genre or type, and that includes literary and main-stream fiction.

My, that’s a sweeping statement, but I repeat, my speech rising:

 EVERY STORY WRITTEN IS A QUEST STORY

Understanding this fact makes writing your story easier.

Here’s why:

Embarking on a quest implies a problem, something or someone to find, something to be solved, a mystery filled with obstacles the character must conquer to reach their goal.

A Quest Story satisfies all the main points of what constitutes a story:

A character has a problem to solve, and after repeated conflicts (internal and external) that push the character to the brink, he or she either succeeds or fails to reach the goal (conclusion), and because of said outcome, is changed.

A mystery falls neatly into this definition: the quest to find the bad guy, either to serve justice or to stop him before he kills again.

A love story is the protagonist’s quest to find the one person who “makes her whole.”

The “coming of age” story is about a young person on the quest to find answers to life’s questions and their place in the world.

James Scott Bell lists 9 types of plot patterns in his book, Plot and Structure: Quest, Revenge, Love, Adventure, the Chase, One against, One apart, Power, and Allegory.

Although Quest Stories are normally attributed to fantasies—The Epic of Gilgamesh (written before the Bible, about 4,000 years ago), Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey, the Arthurian Legend, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, perhaps the greatest quest story of all—every story must, at its core, include a quest.

The Quest Story is about a character shaken from a comfortable existence in search of something vital for his life, the lives of others he cares about, or to save the whole world, as in the case of Frodo Baggins.

Doesn’t every story strive to answer and satisfy this ultimate need? Can you name a story, novel, play, or movie that does not?

Go ahead, we’ll wait.

If a story does not have a quest, there is no story. The quest is what the character must do despite obstacles, no matter what.

While you write, keep in mind the quest your character is trying to complete; this forces you to focus on the character’s purpose, the problems involved, and by doing so, you will avoid the dreaded “middle story lag” and create stories readers will not be able to put down.

What is the quest journey your character must travel?

See you on the next page,

Rick

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Tips for Writing Multiple Viewpoint Novels

arch to forestAt times, stories are too large to be told by a single viewpoint character. I found that to be true during the early stages of writing my fantasy novel, The Returning, and thereby made the decision for the entirety of The Veil Trilogy.

It was the correct choice to bring in three more “stars” for my tale. Though less important than my protagonist, whose character was always the focus of the yarn, each added a deeper dimension.

The protagonist’s love interest POV offered the ability to see my main character in a different way than he perceived himself—one of the best advantages of multi-viewpoint, the ability to deepen characterization.

The antagonist POV allowed the “other” side of the tale, and gave opportunity to show how much stronger the bad guy is, thus causing worry in the reader’s mind.

The fourth POV evolved from the story itself and was unplanned, and she ended up being one of my favorites.

Whether you are an outliner or not—or something in between like me—consider adding additional Viewpoint Characters to give your story a grander and more complex feel.

There are innate difficulties when using multiple characters, but also a number of benefits as mentioned above. Some of the problems are:

  1. Each POV must have their own specific plot line, and their movements through the novel need to, in some way, coincide with the Main character.
  2. Being a POV character requires each have their own goals, strengths and flaws, success and failures, which prompt them to their own resolution. Resolving their issues may or may not parallel those of your main character.
  3. Each POV must have a unique voice, outlook, background, fears and frailties. If an additional POV has essentially the same views or even speech pattern, they should be removed. If two people think exactly the same about each issue, one is unnecessary.
  4. Each POV must appear on occasion to fulfill the reason they are a viewpoint character in the first place.

Point 4 can get a bit dicey. I read a fantasy series where one of the POV’s disappeared for a couple hundred pages. When they returned, I had to go back and remind myself where in the plot line they had last appeared. I felt jolted from the story flow, and it took a bit to get back into the story’s rhythm.

When writing my novel, I kept a separate list of POV characters and where they appeared, both as a Viewpoint and when they appeared in the story but were not the POV. This is how I kept track during the first draft: the number in parenthesis is where the POV appeared, but was not the viewpoint character during that section.

Frank     1, 2, (3), 6, 7, (8), 8, 10
Mitzi      (2), 3, (5), 8, 9
George  4, (6), 9 (9)
Amy      (4), 5, (7),

By setting the story up this way (and keeping track), two things happen:

  1. Ensures each POV has reasonable time within the plot line, and the protagonist (in this case, Frank) gets most of the story time;
  2. Assuring each POV does not disappear for too long.

Using the 3rd person Multi-Viewpoint is not Omniscient Viewpoint, which is to say that each POV needs their own chapter, or at the least a section of a chapter indicated by a break (#) in the story—why Frank and Mitzi both appear in Chapter 8. Notice in the first part of Chapter 8, Mitzi is the POV character—Frank is present—and the second part of the chapter is within Frank’s view with Mitzi no longer present.

The Multi-POV offers unlimited possibilities. If you have never tried this particular option—it’s hard enough to keep track of one, you say—the attempt can deepen your ability to see a scene through a different character’s peculiar view. You might find you enjoy the multiple POV like I did.

See you on the next page,

Rick

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Treat Yourself

Writing is hard and lonely work fraught with lingering doubts and hammering realities. For this reason, you owe yourself a few treats along the way, rewards for your endeavors to help keep you on track (it is so easy to fall off track).

Anything can celebrate the success of completing a new piece of writing, or perhaps discovering an idea to be cultivated into your next short story or novel. Treat yourself to a latte if so inclined, a trip to the movies, or dinner with a loved one is a nice reward for the labor. The important thing is to make the celebration of accomplishment unique, something outside your norm, and consciously acknowledge you are doing it as a reward for your writing effort.

I choose to reward myself with tools that help my writing.

I recently finished a new short story, which so happened to coincide with hurdling another birthday. When my wife asked me what I wanted for my “special” day, my answer came out immediate and emphatic: a book. Specifically, I wanted the first volume of Jim Butcher’s new Cinder Spires series, The Aeronaut’s Windlass. Great wife that she is, Linda bought me the steampunk novel. It now awaits my attention, and having read the back cover and comments about the book by other writers, I yearn to begin. First, though, I must complete this blog.

You recognize the dangling carrot, don’t you, the reward awaiting a completion? A little mind game I play with myself, kind of like being Pavlov and the dog.

Writers are readers, and as Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.”

I love to read about writing; much of the bookshelf space in my office is occupied by instruction books on the craft—I find there is nothing like advice from successful authors to launch my own creations.

With that in mind, and since I had reason for a double celebration (completing a new story and gaining another year on the calendar), I decided to purchase still more books about improving my writing skills.

Having recently finished reading and studying one of the Writer’s Digest books in the Write Great Fiction series—Character, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress (and having a dog-eared, much marked up copy of James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing)—I decided I must have the entire collection, and ordered the remaining three books.

I plan on reading the series in this order (the first two completed):

Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell
Character, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Dialogue by Gloria Kempton
Description and Setting by Ron Rozelle

Not only will I read the series in this order, I will also reread in the same order. Why read Revision and Self-Editing first when it appears that should be the last book? I read it first because it was the first book of the series I owned, and looking back, wish I had read it before I started my novel—I may have avoided a couple key mistakes in the presentation of my story.

I will also read Revision and Self-Editing at the end; it is that valuable to me. Thanks, Mr. Bell.

The purpose of “the treat” is having something to look forward to when you complete a major challenge; don’t offer a treat when you write 500 words in a day—you should be doing that every day if you are a writer. Instead, choose a task that takes a while to accomplish, like finishing a story or novel, or when one of your creations is accepted. Having your writing accepted and published is certainly a reason to celebrate! I hope you will have many of those. But you can’t if you don’t produce, so go write and . . .

I’ll see you on the next page,

Rick

Research You Must Not Ignore

Last week I wrote about the importance of research even when writing fantasy, the kind of research that adds credibility, plausibility, and logic while giving the reader the “feel” of your tale, regardless of genre. The post started many lively discussions on several writer “boards” and blogs throughout the internet; some agreed with the observations, some did not, and that’s as it should be.

However, there is another type of research, which if discounted as meaningless will destroy your chance of success, or at the very least is like being blind-folded, spun around and around until dizzy, and given a bow with one arrow and told to hit a target a hundred yards distant: Market Research.

Market research can be tedious, and in some cases bewildering, especially when researching agents for a book length manuscript.

Some agents want a one page single-spaced query, a two-page synopsis, and the first ten pages of the novel; some do not require a synopsis and want the first fifty pages; some want . . . . You get the picture—each agent has different wants and needs to go along with their unique perspective and buying history. There is little a writer can do aside from following an agent’s requirements (each vastly different than the last) in the hope “something” will strike a chord. Beware: not researching the requirements will not get a first glance, so don’t short-change yourself by eliminating the necessary research. You worked too hard on your book, so give it the best chance of having an agent at least read what you sent.

There are many ways to research agents to increase the odds of success. Start with Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market and Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino; another good reference tool is Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.

Once you have chosen a half dozen potential agents (perhaps many more), visit each of their web sites to research the books they have purchased. Read blurbs about the books (better yet, the books themselves) to get a sense of the style the agent leans toward. As mentioned earlier, make notes as to each agent’s individual requirements, and follow them to the letter.

Take into account how long an agent has been in the “biz” and how long at a particular agency. Well established agents with well established writer clients may have fewer tendencies to work with newer writers, whereas an agent building their client list will probably be more inclined to accept the unproven. Of course, an agent’s inexperience may be a factor, but their hunger to succeed in the marketplace could outweigh any negative sides of the ledger.

As to markets for short fiction (and to avoid too much redundancy) a previous post: After the Writing, Then What?

With all the necessary research (logistics and markets), when does a writer find time to write? Whenever they can.

Writing is first, research is second, regardless. Go tackle the prose, wrestle with it, and give yourself the best shot at success—nothing impresses like skillful writing.

See you on the next page,

Rick